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If I Had Cancer, Will My Children Get Cancer?

If I had a cancer as a child, will my children be at increased risk for cancer?

Will I pass on an abnormal gene to my kids that could cause cancer?

Should my children have genetic testing?

Childhood cancer survivors often ask these questions.

Most childhood cancers are not believed to be inherited. Only about 5-15 percent of childhood cancer cases occur because of an underlying genetic condition. A genetic counselor can help answer questions about risks and testing.

Most childhood cancers are not believed to be inherited. Only about 8-10 percent of childhood cancer cases occur because of an underlying genetic condition. A genetic counselor can help answer questions about risk and testing.

Chromosomes contain our genetic information – the instructions that tell each cell in the body how to function. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes in each cell of the body. People inherit half their chromosomes from their mother and half from their father. Chromosomes are made from strands of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). Segments of DNA are called "genes." Genes provide instructions for making proteins in the cell. Proteins act as the building blocks for everything in the body. Source: National Institutes of Health

The facts:

  • Most cases of childhood cancer are not thought to be due to an inherited genetic change.
  • Studies suggest that 5-15% of childhood cancer patients are born with a genetic condition that cause an increased risk for cancer.
  • Sometimes the affected child is the first in the family to have the genetic condition. Other times, the child may inherit it from one or both parents.
  • There is a chance that the affected person will pass the condition on to future children.
  • Just because someone has an inherited condition, it does not mean he or she will develop cancer. However, for individuals with an increased risk of cancer, certain screening tests may be recommended.

Should my child have genetic testing?

A genetic counselor can help answer questions about genetic testing and support families in their decision-making.

Counselors can also provide information about the risk of passing on a genetic condition associated with an increased chance of developing cancer.

In general, genetic testing starts with the person who had cancer. If that person is found to have a genetic condition, testing of his or her children should be discussed with a genetic counselor who can review the benefits and risks of genetic testing.


Reviewed: May 2020